PATRICIA KARVELAS (HOST): Tony Burke welcome to RN Drive.  


KARVELAS: Let’s just start with some of the big issues. The reputation of the Australian financial sector seems to be in a death spiral. What's it going to take to fix it? 

BURKE: It takes what it was always going to take, which was a royal commission and if the Government had gone ahead with the Royal Commission back when we were calling for it a couple of years ago it would have reported by now and I think we'd have a pretty clear pathway in front of us. Instead two years later and two additional years of more problems occurring, this is where we are. What we've heard today is yet another example and I wish it was going to be the end of the road on these sorts of stories but it won't be. There’ll be more to come and it'll continue to be awful.

KARVELAS: Just on the budget. Next week's big week, the Government will deliver its budget of course then the budget in reply by Bill Shorten and the Labor side of politics on the Thursday. When you've gone through a few of them, I’ve covered them and they are now almost like a dance piece. How are you war-gaming the budget? We saw Chris Bowen today talk about delivering a bigger surplus. Is that what Labor's going to try and do? Show that the Labor side of politics is more prepared to deliver a bigger surplus? Is that where the action is that for you? 

BURKE: We've been determined to have improvements to the budget bottom line for a long time. That's why we've delivered the commitments on trusts, on negative gearing, on capital gains tax and more recently on dividend imputation refunds. So, all of those policies have been aimed really clearly at making sure that we do what we can to improve the budget bottom line. But all of those issues are almost eclipsed by the hit to the budget of what by budget night will be an $80 billion giveaway to corporate Australia. Up until now, we've been talking about it as $65 billion but every year the extra year comes into the forward estimates of the full give away and adds $15 billion at least to it. 

So in the context of the sorts of cuts that the Government puts forward to hospitals, to schools, to families and pensioners so much of that can be dealt with in a responsible way, in a fairer way by simply walking away from an $80 billion giveaway to the exact sort of companies we were talking about at the beginning of this interview. 

KARVELAS: The Business Council of Australia has made clear that it intends to campaign on these sorts of issues. To go to business tax cuts and just general economic issues. Labor has been critical but isn't that what the trade union movement consistently does and if you look at some of the figures being circulated at a pretty big price for the Labor movement? 

BURKE: Well the unions understandably will campaign against things like the cuts to penalty rates that have been dealt with on the floor of the Parliament and there's no surprise to that. 

There's also no surprise I guess that big business when there's $80 billion on the table from the Government will use its money not to deliver the better deal for customers which might have avoided some of the stories that have been coming out from banks and financial institutions but instead will use some of their money for a campaign to try to get their hands on the $80 billion giveaway. I can understand that around the board table why they might want to do that. But I reckon Australians watching those ads knowing it's being paid for by some of the same sorts of institutions that have been ripping them off, it's going to be a big ask if they reckon they can run a campaign that people won't see straight through. 

KARVELAS: Just in your own portfolio area we actually had Josh Frydenberg on last night talking about a range of issues but also talking about the Great Barrier Reef. The commitment that the Government has made that's half a billion dollars, the biggest investment to the reef in history. Do you recognise that the Government has made a good effort here? 

BURKE: They've made an effort. 

KARVELAS: But it's the biggest investment in history. 

BURKE: Some of this investment we've got to wait to see how it pans out. Because by doing it through the foundation which I won't bore with the budgetary trick that this involves but it allows them to get all the money out the door this financial year. I don't know the extent to which there's been Government oversight and how it's spent. 

So the normal way in which there has been oversight will be difficult to apply given the mechanism that they've used for the lion's share of that money. You can't buy your way around the challenges for the Great Barrier Reef. You can't buy it out of problems. And so, is more money going to be a good thing? Yes but it's a bit like turning up to a natural disaster with a packet of band-aids. People will be pleased that they're there but the first question has to be ‘what are the biggest issues affecting the reef?’ The biggest issues affecting the reef are attached directly to climate change and then you need to also deal with the issues that provide the resilience for the reef. On climate change, the Government's on the wrong side of the debate and on the issues for resilience of the reef they're on the wrong side as well. 

They supported the abolition of the land clearing laws in the Great Barrier Reef catchment. They've just turned the Coral Sea into a massive trawling area immediately adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. The same action that deals with climate change also deals with ocean acidification because the gases that cause climate change are the same gases that cause ocean acidification. You need to be dealing with all of these issues as well. 

So yes, is it good to be getting in there removing crown-of-thorns starfish? Of course, it is. But at the same time, they're in their numbers because of what's happening with runoff as a direct result of there not being proper land clearing laws.  

KARVELAS: It’s interesting all the things you've just listed. There's one gaping omission in my analysis Tony Burke and that is you haven't mentioned the Adani coal mine. If you listen to the Australian Conservation Foundation and Geoff Cousins who I actually interviewed on National Wrap that you'd been on, in fact, I'll invite you again. He actually came on the program and mentioned the Adani coal mine and was critical of the reef package on the basis of the Government's strategy on climate change but also Adani. Now Labor has had a kind of flip-flop approach to Adani too. You’re not mentioning it and you're not opposing it. 

BURKE: The Adani mine has become emblematic of action on climate change…

KARVELAS: But do you see it as destructive to the reef?

BURKE: I think it adds to the problems. It adds to the problems. There's no doubt about that. If we win Government I'll be the person in charge if there are any remaining approvals. And so I certainly can’t in this interview now prejudge the decision that I might have to make in Government. But what I can say is the more I've looked at this project the more sceptical I've become about it. I remain deeply concerned. Now, this is not a specific issue on reef health. The reports that came out some months ago into the dumping of coal-laden water into the Caley Valley wetlands where there is federal responsibility for those wetlands and the Environment Minister's response was ‘oh that's just a matter for Queensland’. I can't for the life of me see how that's a way that the responsibilities of the Federal Environment Minister are properly being acquitted. So yes I do have deep concerns about the Adani mine. 

What I'm really careful to do though, just as it is an exaggeration to look at Josh Frydenberg’s package and say that fixes everything, it’s also an exaggeration to claim if we stop Adani then we have fixed everything for the reef because it is one of the projects that adds to the pressures. And the reason I avoid benching it I guess is twofold. 

In the first instance, I may end up being the decision maker over it and I can't prejudge it. If I do any decision I make would be thrown out in court. The second thing though with Adani is I do believe we shouldn't fall into the trap of believing if we stop that project then the reef has been properly protected because the list of things that need to be done goes way beyond Adani.  


KARVELAS: Just finally the if the ASD (Australian Signals Directorate) is given the power to monitor our lives to prevent child exploitation and terrorism. The particular child exploitation examples that Peter Dutton the Home Affairs Minister has provided, would it be worth it?

BURKE: On any of these issues we need to start with ‘what's the proposal from the government?’ And at the moment we're getting a different answer from Peter Dutton to what we're getting with Julie Bishop. It is a big, big step. If we're going to go down the path where Australians can be monitored without there being a warrant in that way. So it's a very significant step. But at the moment we're getting conflicting signals from the Government as to whether or not there is in fact even this proposal. 

We take a really responsible approach on the national security issues. We always want to be properly briefed, there is a committee that deals with these issues in a responsible way. If bipartisanship is possible in a responsible way then we deliver it and when it's not, we don't. 

But the first point you need to cross the threshold on is what's the proposal from the Government? And the Government can't answer that question. 

KARVELAS: Tony Burke many thanks for your time. 

BURKE: Great to be back on the program. 

Tony Burke